R.C. Edwards was happy to hear that Turnpike Troubadours had sold out their Friday show at Bourbon Theatre weeks ago.
"That’s cool. That’s good,” he said. “That’s what we want to do. It’s grown by leaps and bounds, the number of people who are at the shows, how fast they sell out.”
Edwards, bassist and one of the primary songwriters for the Oklahoma country band, didn’t have a precise reason that Turnpike Troubadours have become a sell-out act across the the center of the country.
“We just seem to just kind of connect with people,” he said. “We just make honest music. People identify with the songs, the sounds. It’s worked out well for us.”
Constant road warriors who play more than 100 shows a year, Turnpike Troubadours are supporting “A Long Way from Your Heart,” their fourth or fifth album, depending on how you count -- their 2007 debut “Bossier City" is out of print.
The album marks the first time the band has worked with a producer rather than making the record itself. And not just any producer — Grammy Award-winning producer Ryan Hewitt, who previously worked with Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Avett Brothers and the Lumineers.
“We’d never done it before," Edwards said. "It was something we wanted to try. We had an opportunity to get a great one in Ryan Hewitt. It was great to have an outside perspective and to have somebody push us to make the best record we could make.
“It wasn’t really about changing our sound, going for a new sound or anything like that. It was about arranging, he really worked with us on that, and getting the best out of every song. The arrangements are the best we’ve done and it has the best sound we’ve had on record.”
Slicker and more tightly arranged than the band’s previous albums, which reflect more of its live shows, “A Long Way From Your Heart” is filled with swooping pedal steel, ringing acoustic guitars, slippery leads, easy beats and the conversational vocals of Evan Felker singing songs of everyday life, love and the premature death of rock ‘n’ roll.
Turnpike Troubadours will play songs from “A Long Way from Your Heart” at the Bourbon, including most likely “Pipe Bomb Dream,” their current single, which Edwards co-write about a military man who runs afoul of the law.
“There’s at least four or five new ones we’re doing on a regular basis, but not all of them every night,” Edwards said. “You don’t want to hit them over the head with a load of new material. So we work them in with the old favorites. It’s getting harder to play all the songs people want to hear. So we’re rotating them too.”
That said, Edwards knows there are songs that have to played at every show -- or else.
“There’s a few that are longtime standards that would get some beer thrown at us if we didn’t play ‘em,” he said. “‘Every Girl’, ‘7&7’,’ ‘Long Hot Summer Day’ are ones we have to do every time. There was one time in Kansas, we didn’t play ‘Long Hot Summer’ and they like tore our front-of-house guy and merch guy apart.”
Together for more than a decade, Turnpike Troubadours were formed when the Red Dirt sound was breaking out in Oklahoma, inspiring the young musicians to turn to the regional country style that mixes a little rock and some singer-songwriter elements with the traditional sounds.
“It’s not really about the sound of the music per se, it’s about being honest, telling real stories and playing it that way,” Edwards said of Red Dirt country. “That’s a lot of it and it’s why it resonates with people.
“We were lucky that stuff emerged when we were coming out of high school, going to college you had Cross Canadian Ragweed, the Great Divide, Jason Boland. Those guys made it cool to play that kind of music and it made a great impact on us. We’d all been in bands, playing garage rock-like stuff and they made it cool to play it.
“Then the Stragglers and Mike McClure and even Cody Canada, they took us under their wings and got us started. They’re big brother bands to us.”
The hard-working band first broke through regionally, then went national when 2012’s “Goodbye Normal Street” went to No. 14 on the country charts. It’s followup, 2015’s “The Turnpike Troubadours” made it to No. 3, as did “A Long Way from Your Heart.”
Like the previous four albums, “A Long Way From Your Heart” is on the band’s Bossier City Records.
“That’s one of the positives about the way the music is now, you can be independent,” Edwards said. “We do it ourselves. Thirty Tigers is the distribution label. They make sure it gets out and they do a great job of it. But they don’t own the records. We do. You don’t have to have a major label anymore.”
Now that the band is playing around the country, dominating in Texas, Oklahoma and the Plains, and getting critical notice pretty everywhere, what’s left for it to do?
“Turnpike Troubadours -- The Musical, maybe?,” Edwards said. “I don’t know, keep doing what we’re doing and keep going out and playing to more and more people. That’s the most satisfying thing, making a new fan. They find you somewhere, somehow, see a show or something, then later you meet them and they tell you about it. That really is the most satisfying thing.”